Jan 20 2016

Clean Water

WY Grand Teton NP Oxbow BendThe subject of water has certainly been in the news lately. What has happened in Flint, Michigan, is quite tragic.  In order to save money the lives of thousands of children were put at risk by the state government.  While all this gets played out in the news Congress has been attempting to weaken clean water standards that currently are in place.  I find all of this very disturbing.  The availability of clean water is a necessity and must be insisted upon.

_CES2860A few nights ago I was reading Psalm 104 and came across a series of verses where the Psalmist talks about God providing water not for humans but for the rest of Creation. Take notice of what is said here: “He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.  The birds of the air nest by the waters;  they sing among the branches.  He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work…  The trees of the Lord are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon he planted.” (vs. 10-13, 16)

Apparently the provision of water is something that God takes very seriously. The Creator has made sure that all creatures, human and nonhuman alike, have the water they need.  In the Old Testament one of the names of God is Jehovah Jireh which means “the Lord will provide.”  From the beginning God has sought to provide for and meet the needs of His Creation.  God has gone to great lengths to provide water for “the beasts of the field, the wild donkeys, the birds of the air, the mountains and the trees.”  This is a wonderful reminder that God’s love and compassion extends to all of Creation, not just us.

_DSC1477If God was concerned enough to provide water for all the things the Psalmist mentions, and for us too, we can surely conclude that making clean water available to others ought to be a concern of those who are children of God. We should be concerned that so many of our oceans, rivers and lakes are dangerously polluted.  We should be horrified that something like what happened in Flint ever occurred.  If we are going to take seriously our call to be good stewards of the earth then we must do what we can to protect our water resources and support legislation that ensures clean water be provided to all.

According to the Psalmist God cares about things like this.  Hopefully we will too.


(I took the top image at Grand Tetons National Park, the middle one in the Ozarks of Missouri, and the bottom on in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)

Jan 2 2013

Water and Life

UP-Miners-Beach-396I’ve been thinking about water the past few days.  During my holiday travels I saw a lot of rain and a fair amount of snow.   While driving to Florida and back we also saw many rivers and lakes.  I suppose anyone living outside of a desert sees water in some form or fashion on a regular basis.  It is certainly a very important part of our lives and a vital part of nature.  Leonardo Da Vinci once said “Water is the driving force of nature.”   In addition to being crucial to our existence there is something special about water.  The famous anthropologist, Loren Eiseley, once wrote “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”  Water brings us both life and enjoyment.  It truly is one of God’s greatest gifts.

In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John there is a story recorded of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well in Sychar.  In his conversation with this woman Jesus asked her for a drink of water.  When she raised questions about the appropriateness of this request Jesus responded, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  The woman was confused by Jesus’ words.  She didn’t understand what he meant by “living water” so he added, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jenny-Wiley-SP-last-light-It is not hard to see how water is a metaphor for life in both nature and the spiritual realm.  It would seem to me that just as water is essential for our physical well-being Christ is essential to our spiritual well-being.  In fact, I cannot experience life in its fullness apart from him.  When Jesus speaks of “eternal life” he is not just talking about life after death; he is referring to something we experience here and now.  It is the “abundant life” he spoke of elsewhere. (John 10:10)  That “life” is only possible when we receive the “living water, the life, Christ offers us.

TN-Great-Smoky-Mountains-Spruce-Flat-FallsHopefully when we see it rain or notice the various bodies of water we encounter day by day we can remember our need for “living water.”  Apparently this is something the Scottish author, poet and minister, George MacDonald recognized.  He once wrote: “There is no water in oxygen, no water in hydrogen: it comes bubbling fresh from the imagination of the living God, rushing from under the great white throne of the glacier. The very thought of it makes one gasp with an elemental joy no metaphysician can analyze. The water itself, that dances, and sings, and slakes the wonderful thirst–symbol and picture of that draught for which the woman of Samaria made her prayer to Jesus–this lovely thing itself, whose very wetness is a delight to every inch of the human body in its embrace–this live thing which, if I might, I would have running through my room, yea, babbling along my table–this water is its own self, its own truth, and is therein a truth of God.”   Hopefully, we, too, can learn to let the water we see, drink, swim and bathe in be a perpetual reminder of the “truth of God” and of our constant need for Christ.


(I took the top picture at Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the middle image at Jenny Wiley State Park in Kentucky, and the bottom one in Tennessee at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)

Nov 16 2011

A Feather on the Breath of God

Over the past few days I’ve been reading a delightful book called Water, Wind, Earth & Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements by Christine Valters Paintner.  As you can tell from the title, the book explores ways that the traditional four elements of nature can be used to enhance our prayer lives.  I have only read thus far the section on “wind” but I am finding this book to be filled with lots of useful information and suggestions.  I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve found helpful.

To begin with, Paintner says “The metaphor of air or wind offers us a variety of ways to understand our experience of God: as life-breath, as inspiration, as enlivener, as directional guide, as powerful force, or as the current that supports flight.”  She also says, “The element of wind invites us to ‘open our souls to Being,’ which means opening ourselves to a God who flows in directions we cannot predict.  This element invites us to a radical posture of surrender in releasing our hold on our plans and making room for God to blow us in the most life-giving direction.  As a metaphor for God wind reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways.  The invitation of wind requires of us a detachment from our own longing to control the direction of our lives and a simultaneous surrender to Spirit to allow ourselves to be carried to places of growth and newness.”

I remember from my studies of Greek and Hebrew that both languages use the same word for both “wind” and “spirit.”  I have not, however, given that much thought to how we might use the wind or air we experience on a daily basis to make us more mindful of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives each day.  We actually have a chance with each breath we take to be reminded of the Spirit that sustains guides and nourishes us.  In meditation people are encouraged to pay close attention to their breathing.  This makes perfect sense.

I found the following suggestion by Paintner to be particularly helpful.  “Begin each day by intentionally setting aside your plans and offering a prayer asking for direction from the flow of the Spirit present in the wind.  Notice during the day where this guidance wants to take you.”  This is a simple practice that could have a profound impact on our lives.  We might envision ourselves as “a feather on the breath of God,” as Hildegard of Bingen once suggested, and then seek throughout the day to allow God’s Spirit, God’s Wind, to move us wherever God thinks best.  Jesus once told a man named Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)    I encourage you to ponder anew the words of Christ and to offer a prayer that you will be as open to the movement of God in your life as a feather is to the sometimes gentle and sometimes forceful prompting of the wind. 


(The top two pictures are intentional blurs taken to illustrate the movement of the wind.  I chose the bottom image to symbolize how we never know where the wind or God will lead us.)

Editor’s Note: Rob’s father passed away a couple of days ago.  Please remember he and his family in your prayers.

Jul 24 2011

Water, Water, Everywhere?

“I was thirsty…”  (Jesus)

One of my favorite naturalist writers is Craig Childs. Recently I completed reading his book The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert. One of the points driven home in this work is that “there are two easy ways to die in the desert: thirst or drowning.” The desert is known as the land of little rain but when it does rain there is often the danger of flash floods. In many cases people perish because the floods catch them by surprise.

When it comes to God’s Creation water in general is a fascinating subject to me. The planet we live on is approximately 2/3 water. Interestingly enough, our bodies are also approximately 2/3 water. Water is absolutely essential to our existence. A human being can go without food for about a month but will not survive without water but three to five days. We depend on consistent rainfall or irrigation systems to grow our food. When areas experience droughts, such as the horrible one occurring in Somalia right now, the results can be devastating. Not only are crops lost, so are lives.

Although our planet contains vast amounts of water much of it has become polluted. This is true for both our freshwater and seawater sources. It is all too evident that humans have not been good stewards of this vital resource. At times we have polluted the waters unintentionally. More frequently it has been intentional. In the 2004 U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report, “An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century”, we read “Our failure to properly manage the human activities that affect the nation’s oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes is compromising their ecological integrity, diminishing our ability to fully realize their potential, costing us jobs and revenue, threatening human health, and putting our future at risk.”  The pollution of our inland rivers and lakes has these same ramifications. The effect of water pollution on both humans and wildlife concerns me. It should concern all of us.

I am also concerned about the future availability of clean water. I have read that global consumption of water is doubling every twenty years and that this is more than twice the rate of human population growth. Numerous nations already have water shortage problems. According to the World Health Organization about one billion people presently do not have access to adequate fresh water and nearly 2 ½ billion lack access to adequate sanitation.

In Michael Abbate’s book, Gardening Eden, he writes: “For those of us concerned about the Bible’s admonition to care for the ‘least of these,’ assuring access to reliable, clean water is an undeniable priority.  More than five million people, most of them children, die every year from illnesses caused by drinking poor-quality water.” Abbate is right; if anyone should be concerned about the crisis that has resulted because of water pollution and poor management of resources it is Christians. So much is at stake here. We must do all that we can to conserve our own usage of water, fight to make sure that laws are enacted–or kept enacted—that protect the earth’s water supplies from polluters, and support the work of those organizations that seek to dig wells in Third World countries and provide clean water to those in need. If we do not do our part, we may just hear our Lord say to us one day, “I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.” (Matthew 25:42) I pray that day will never come for me… or you.


(I took the three pictures above on a trip to Olympic National Park last summer.  The top image is of  fireweed along the Sol Duc River.   The middle image is Sol Duc Falls.  The bottom image is of the Elwah River.)

Mar 30 2011

Streams of Living Water

There can be no denying that Jesus was a masterful teacher.  He not only knew what to say and how, he also knew when.  In Vespers tonight I’ll be teaching from the seventh chapter of John’s Gospel.  The setting for this chapter is Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles.  At this popular feast the Jews remembered the days their ancestors had spent wandering in the desert centuries before.  They recalled how through Moses God brought forth water from a rock.  Throughout the eight day festival water libations were offered to remind themselves of God’s provisions and also to offer prayers for rain.

John tells us that “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within.’”  (7:37-38)  At the precise time when the gift of water was the focus Jesus invited everyone to come to him and quench their thirst.  What he offered them was not some beverage that would only momentarily slake their thirst; he offered them himself and the “living water” that alone can satisfy our greatest need.  Those who received this gift of living water would then be able to draw from it and share the same gift with others.

Some believe that behind Jesus’ words is a prophecy found in Isaiah 58:11. “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”  You also cannot read Jesus’ words without recalling his message to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:14, “…whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

An ever-flowing stream is a wonderful metaphor for the gift of life and salvation Jesus offers us. Picturing Jesus’ gift as just a cup of water is not adequate.  I picture instead a stream not unlike the one shown above–a stream that is gushing.   If we accept Jesus’ invitation to believe in him we will be filled with a source of living water that shall never cease.  It will, in fact, be so abundant we won’t be able not to share it with others.  If you get the privilege of seeing a swollen stream this spring, I hope you’ll stop and think about this.  I have a feeling that is what the master teacher, Jesus, would want us to do.


(I took these two images of Gap Creek in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park earlier this month.)

Jul 25 2010

Nature’s Sermons

BIP 669I continue to be amazed at how the various figures of the Bible use nature to illustrate spiritual truths.  I’m reading the Book of Jeremiah now and a few days ago I came across a passage where the prophet encouraged his listeners to trust in God.  He indicates that there are benefits of trusting God but he doesn’t say exactly what these benefits are.  Instead he compares them to a tree planted by water.

The passage I’m referring to is Jeremiah 17:7-8.  It reads, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

A similar comparison is made in Psalm 1.  There the Psalmist declares as “happy” those whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.” (v. 3)

Since I live in an area which has lots of creeks and rivers I see every day “trees planted by water.”  And sure enough, even in the tremendous heat we are experiencing this summer, they continue to thrive.  They have what they need most—water.

In God we find what we need most.  And Jeremiah is certainly right.  There are many benefits of putting our trust in God.  Like the tree planted by water we can endure difficult times when we remain close to God.  We can live without fear and anxiety knowing that the One who created us and everything else has promised to provide for our needs.  We can live productive lives as long as we stay close to our Maker.  This is something Jesus himself stressed in his analogy of the vine and the branches in John 15.

As a pastor I have the privilege of delivering sermons each Sunday.  Here lately the Bible has been reminding me that nature delivers sermons each and every day.  Are we listening?  We should be!


(The “tree planted by water” shown above was photographed at Breaks Interstate Park in southeast Kentucky.)